Ridering Off Into the Sunset: A Funness Ranking

It’s budget season again, which means that a lot of no-fun policies could be on the horizon.

These policies would be no fun because the budget is a prime vehicle for attaching inappropriate ideological policy “riders,” for example forcing agencies to stop work on important safeguards for health, safety, and a better-functioning democracy. Riders have unfortunately become a substitute for governing. They have no place in the budget bills to which they are attached, and have become a sneaky way of getting provisions passed that would have no chance as a stand-alone piece of legislation. A massive effort to keep them out of this year’s budget is underway.

Just so we’re clear, funding the government? Fun! Extraneous and unnecessary additions? No fun.

Unlike inappropriate ideological budget riders, contract riders, legal vehicles used by pop stars to ensure their concert needs are met, can be VERY fun. Not only do they give us a picture of the likes and dislikes of celebrated personalities (why does Jack White hate bananas?) they have a serious purpose. A seemingly-bizarre provision in a concert contract can be a way for bands to ensure that more important but harder-to-see needs are met. For example, when dozens of people are working with electronics and heavy-duty equipment, adherence to the fine print can be vital for safety.

So please enjoy this list of riders of both types—budget and pop star contracts–arranged from most to least fun.

  1. M&Ms: The most famous contract rider provision of all time comes from the band Van Halen, which notoriously required a bowl of M&Ms in their dressing room from which all the brown candies had been removed. This is the most fun rider because chocolate, and also because I think the retirement of the light brown M&M color was unfair
  1. Guacamole: In February of 2015, rock star Jack White’s contract rider was released after a college newspaper got it in a records request. It contained a request for guacamole and a recipe with exacting standards for how that dip (or as White’s detractors suggest, avocado salad,) be prepared. We haven’t yet tried the recipe, but apparently it’s pretty good! Guac is delicious, but the relative healthiness of this snack puts it solidly behind candy on the fun scale.
  1. Colin Firth’s Wet, Clingy, Mr. Darcy Shirt: Coming soon to the Folger Shakespeare Library is the artifact known only as “The Shirt.” How Public Citizen staff are supposed to continue their work when this garment is mere blocks away is not clear, nor are details on how the Folger will adequately display this wafty textile masterpiece. Lucky for us, this satire of contract riders featuring “The Shirt” is good enough to get it on the list. This comes in at number three, because I’m sure somebody on the internet will not understand that the New Yorker piece is fiction.
  1. Hindering the SEC Corporate Disclosure Rule: Now we’re coming to the sad end of the list and entering the no-fun zone. In this fiscal year’s budget, passed in December 2015, a policy rider prevented the SEC from finalizing a rule that could have required publicly owned companies to disclose their political spending. Fortunately, the SEC is still allowed to work on that rule, which would provide voters and shareholders with key information on how corporations are influencing lawmakers. Though definitely no-fun, it could have been worse.
  1. Delaying a new definition of nonprofit political activity: absolutely no fun at all. As we discuss in our statement, delaying these needed rules only hurts nonprofits. Unlike the SEC disclosure rider, this rider leaves no room for the IRS to work on these needed regulations. So nonprofits are still in the dark on how to engage in elections in a nonpartisan way. Not only is that no fun, it’s taking away a vital part of our democracy.

Mucking up our democracy is no game, but protecting our budget from harmful policy riders can be fun, even if tax policy isn’t always M&Ms and Mr. Darcy.